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Smartrac, Partners Aim for Green Tags

The Green Tag Program offers green certification to UHF and NFC tags sold by Smartrac that omit heavy metals, adhesives and chemical etching processes as tags are increasingly being applied to products and packaging that might be recycled.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 22, 2019

Radio frequency identification technology offers users an opportunity to reduce their ecological footprint by increasing efficiency and decreasing the incidence of lost items and over-stocking, both of which can lead to extra transportation costs. But as more tags are being attached to products and packaging, the question of what environmental impact the tags themselves have arises.

RFID technology company Smartrac Technology Group has been looking at what the ecological footprint of the ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) and Near Field Communication (NFC) passive RFID tags attached to such product might be, as well as how it might be reduced. In January 2019, the company launched a Green Tag Program that ensures the products Smartrac produces or sells have a low environmental impact.

Currently, most RFID tags include metal antennas and chips, glue to affix the chips to the antennas, and plastic or paper substrates to which those chips and antennas are attached. Therefore, when a label is applied to an otherwise recyclable product or package, it could pose a problem. Smartrac's effort has been to establish manufacturing processes that promise to require less energy and to release RFID tags that are recyclable or compostable, thereby leaving less material behind.

With the Green Tag Program, all Smartrac tags and inlays will be subject to the firm's new Green Tag label certification. To meet the standard, they must be plastic-free, says Hal Hikita, Smartrac's senior VP of product management and product marketing. That means the substrate must be made of recyclable or compostable paper. The antennas must not contain heavy metals, such as copper, which is found in many traditional antennas. What's more, no chemical etching of aluminum antennas can be applied, making the recycling of aluminum residues possible once the tag is discarded.

Any Smartrac product that qualifies as a Green Tag uses minimal adhesive for chip bonding. Additionally, printable antennas must be printed directly on cardboard that is either recyclable or compostable. In this effort, Smartrac is working with many of its technology partners to employ new manufacturing technologies that promise to require fewer resources and to enable tags to meet the Green Tag criteria.

Smartrac, based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, develops and sells IoT solutions as well as RFID-based products. Its offerings include RFID inlays and tags for NFC or UHF deployments. "In today's world," Hikita says, "sustainability has a global mandate and is one key driver of innovation." Unlike in previous decades, he adds, "businesses cannot avoid the significance of sustainability any longer." But how they deliver sustainability must be competitive, he notes, which means users will expect the same level of performance, supply chain efficiency and affordability. "Our customers have made this a clear and present demand, and RFID technology is a major enabler for meeting these demands."

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